Getting clients is one of those monster topics that will never die. 1000 years from now, freelancers and agencies alike will still be putting their time and effort into getting clients. For individuals, the good news is that while the search for clients may never actually stop until you retire, it does get easier once you hit a certain tipping point. This is the point where you have a solid base of clients who you do ongoing work for, and new work starts showing up from time to time as a result of referrals, previous promotions, your work’s presence in the market, and other, similar sources.
Once you’ve reached that point, being a freelance graphic designer becomes more enjoyable, less stressful, and more profitable. In the mean time, though, here are some suggestions for getting graphic design work to get you building that client-base.
Most cities have plenty of options for networking groups and events. Often the local Chamber of Commerce will host networking events for their members, as do many different industry organizations, and privately run networking groups are very common in most cities. At these type of events there’s usually no shortage of real estate agents, insurance salesmen, and financial planners, but you’ll also meet plenty of other people from a range of industries.
The effectiveness of these groups depends on who attends them, but here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of these situations:
- Always have plenty of business cards to hand out (that should be a no-brainer).
- Be honest with yourself and others. Everyone is there to get customers and make business contacts. You don’t need to hide it or be shy about it.
- Have your elevator pitch ready. If you don’t know what that means, see Winning New Clients With A Polished Elevator Pitch.
- Have fun, relax and be yourself.
Make Your Business Card A Sales Tool
Many businesses and freelancers fail to use their business cards to their full potential. Their cards have their name, title, business name, logo and contact info, and they rely on themselves to do the selling. Make your business card do some of that work for you. It will be more effective when passed along, or when the potential client looks at it a week later and can’t remember exactly what you said about yourself.
Here are three ways to make your business card work better for you: list your strengths and specialties, make an offer (such as a “complementary consultation”), or it can be unique and memorable enough that people want to find out more about you. If you can do all three, all the better.
I once had a business partner who was one of the oddest, wackiest guys you’ll ever meet. He had no qualms about bringing toy guns to business meetings, wearing silly hats to business events, or jumping up and down to get attention. He was not (and still isn’t) someone you would describe as acting “professional,” but the thing is people remember him, and he was extremely good at getting business because of it.
Have An Effective Website
Once you get someone interested in your work, they will usually go to your website to see what you’ve done. This can strongly influence whether or not they hire you, so it’s worth taking the time to polish your site and make sure that it looks its best and does a good job of selling the reader on why they should hire you. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword, though, because many designers can get so caught up in polishing their site that they never actually launch it! Here is a brief check list of important information for a graphic designer’s website:
- An introductory paragraph on the homepage describing who you are.
- A list of the services you offer. Be specific here, just saying you offer graphic design is too vague.
- A selection of your best (and only your best) work.
- Solid reasons why the viewer should hire you, and not someone else.
- Your location. It is surprising how many businesses don’t list their location on their websites.
Graphic design is mostly a business-to-business industry. Try finding someone else who works business-to-business and develop a relationship with them where you can send customers their way, and they can send customers yours. This could be a print shop owner, a screen printer, an office equipment salesperson, a business consultant, or anyone else who will have a similar client base to you.
Volunteer With A Well Connected Group
Volunteering is a great way to develop relationships with new people, which can lead to them hiring you or giving you referrals. This can be especially effective if you pick the right place to volunteer. You’ll see the most benefit if you find a place that has well-connected people. If these people appreciate the contribution you make, they’ll want to help you get work. Now don’t get me wrong here, I think volunteer work should be done for sincere intent, but it doesn’t hurt, when picking where to offer your time, to pay a little attention.
If you treat your clients well, a certain amount of referrals are bound to come your way, but it never hurts to remind clients once in a while that referrals are appreciated. Perhaps give them a small stack of business cards and say, “Just in case you know anybody else who might need my services.”
Find A Niche
Business people often know lots of other people in the same industry, and if you can bill yourself as the go-to person for a particular niche, one client can quickly turn into many. For example, you could offer a special logo package just for real estate agents, or you could be the expert for menus and wine lists (trust me, being able to spell wine varietals is a handy skill), or the designer who understands the needs of the medical industry. This can be a great way to build your client base.
Teach a Class or Seminar
Teaching a class or seminar automatically makes you an expert in the eyes of your attendees, and they begin to implicitly trust you. Often, your students will want to hire you to do exactly what you just taught them how to do, or they may hire you for related work. If you’re a web designer, for example, you could host a seminar about marketing through social media. You may find that some of the attendees want you to make a website for them to integrate your techniques into.
Thanks to the age of information, there are many job boards full of opportunities for graphic designers. In fact, the folks over at FreelanceSwitch have done such a great job with their Monster List of Freelancing Job Sites that I’m not going to bother listing any here. Make sure to very carefully draft your cover letters and proposals. You’re applying for a job after all, and there will be plenty of competition.